Not too long ago, vegans were banished to the fruit and veg aisle at Christmas time. If they were lucky, a nut roast would nab centre stage on the table, surrounded by a rainbow of salads.
With veganism soaring (Australia is the third fastest growing vegan market in the world, after the United Arab Emirates and China), meat and dairy free food options are diversifying.
“Over time, as people become more educated about how their food is produced, they are being more conscious and selective of what they choose to eat,” believes Pana Barbounis, founder of Pana Chocolate. “Our knowledge of food and how it can nourish us is constantly evolving, so our view of healthy eating will evolve.”
The Melbourne based chocolate company – which now has Sydney headquarters too – hand-makes organic, raw, vegan chocolates and desserts (such as vegan cheesecakes, lamingtons and even wagon wheels) using minimal heat and no refined sugar; they substitute agave nectar and coconut syrup for the sweet stuff.
Growing up in a migrant Greek family in the western suburbs of Melbourne, food has always played a lead role in Barbounis’s life. It spurred him towards a career in hospitality, where he spearheaded a number of Melbourne cafes and restaurants before opening the flagship Pana Chocolate shop in Richmond, Victoria in 2013.
Barbounis wanted to allow all chocolate-lovers – regardless of dietary or ethical backgrounds – to enjoy the cacao-based treat, guiltlessly.
“Everyone loves chocolate, but at the time, there wasn’t a great tasting chocolate that could be enjoyed by everyone.”
It’s hard to picture Christmas without the cream-topped pavlova, chocolate stocking-stuffers or ice-cream oozing over hot puddings. But Barbounis will be swapping his for a decadent raw cinnamon chocolate mousse. Other regular dessert staples on his family’s Christmas table include a dense vegan coconut cake, plenty of seasonal fruit and vegan cheese platters.
This raw chocolate and berry torte makes a pretty vegan festive dessert - and it's gluten-free too.
It wasn’t too long ago that Christmas lunch was a challenge for Suzy Spoon and her friends.
“There was nothing great for vegans and vegetarians in the supermarket back then and a real need for delicious food that you could actually chew and chop with a knife,” the 42-year-old says.
She began making meat-free meals for friends and family out of her Newtown café at the age of 24 before opening the country’s first vegetarian butcher in Enmore in 2013, later moving to nearby King Street in Newtown. But a growing appetite for her prime meat-free cuts saw her moving to a commercial-scale kitchen in St Peters.
“I think people have a conscience and once they find out how factory farmed meat is made, I think it’s very difficult to not feel bad about eating it.”
Spoon, who is a vegetarian (she chooses to eat the eggs laid by her backyard chooks in Bundeena on NSW’s south coast), makes a vegan Christmas roast.
“It’s almost like a roulade, but it’s made of seitan, which is a faux meat made from the protein of wheat,” she explains. “It’s rolled up like a jam roll and inside it is nuts and cranberries and beautifully cooked onions with mushrooms.”
The roulade is covered in a tofu skin and coated in sesame oil and soy sauce for added richness.
“It takes three people a whole day to make 60 of them – they’re a handmade, very precious item. Vegans deserve something beautiful and special on the table for Christmas,” Spoon says.
Specialty grocers such as Suzy Spoon’s (who has stockists around the country) and even supermarkets now offer a range of animal-free patties, balls and sausages, but for last-minute ideas, Spoon encourages folks not to shy away from making vegetables the star of the show.
Creamy polenta with rustic vegetables is at home at any celebration.
“It’s worth not forgetting how incredibly fabulous a baked cauliflower is with a little drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Or mushrooms baked and topped with some homemade basil pesto or truffle oil.”
While she prefers to soak and boil them fresh, she says there’s nothing wrong with turning to cans of legumes over the frantic festive season. Spoon uses chickpeas and nuts to bulk up salads, or as fast and fresh taco fillers.
Use the liquid from a can of chickpeas to make aquafaba meringues - perfect for mini pavlovas.
Baby parsnips are so tender that you don’t even need to peel them. (And if you did, there wouldn’t be much vegetable left!) Parsnips have a sharp flavor reminiscent of parsley’s and become incredibly sweet when roasted. Here they are drizzled with a glaze of maple syrup, a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat, and a splash of vinegar. Chanterelle mushrooms don’t come cheap, but they add a woodsy flavor to this winter dish.
"These plant-based, raw tarts are gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free. They are surprisingly fresh and light to taste, until you get a mouthful of the dark chocolate sauce! Go mad with the petals and passionfruit to decorate them; they will look amazing." Lauren Glucina, Ascension Kitchen
Inspired by the trendy Parisian foodie mecca, Rue du Nil, this earthy beetroot soup packs a punch with raspberry vinegar and fresh grated horseradish. Serve as is, or with a crusty baguette.
Light and fresh, not to mention vegan, this is a salad that’s all about contrasting textures and flavours. Leek, when roasted, is delicate and soft, working perfectly against the crunch of the chickpeas. The fennel and watercress, both fresh and crisp, cut through the buttery potato, and the roasted garlic and lemon dressing adds just the right amount of kick. If you’re needing a protein fix add poached chicken, prawns or even smoked trout.